Notre Dame Football: 4 Freshmen the Irish Can Build Around

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IFebruary 11, 2013

Notre Dame Football: 4 Freshmen the Irish Can Build Around

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    Last Wednesday, Notre Dame finalized its star-studded 2013 recruiting class, which included a handful of individuals who the Irish would be wise to build their program around.

    Those individuals represent the formula used by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and Co. to reach the 2013 BCS National Championship Game: a consistent, effective rushing attack paired with a formidable defense.

    Though Notre Dame excelled in each of those aspects of the game, the Irish were thoroughly mauled in the title game by an Alabama program that has taken that same formula to new heights.

    Reaching the Crimson Tide's level may be an unattainable goal, but Notre Dame's best bet to do so would be to build around the following players.

Steve Elmer, OT

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    To the casual viewer, the beauty that is the battle at the line of scrimmage often goes unnoticed.

    But it's the monsters in the trenches who pave the way for running backs to showcase their speed, quickness and agility.

    Steve Elmer, a 6'6", 305-pound offensive tackle, is one such player who will be a difference-maker in the trenches in seasons to come.

    A 4-star prospect, per, Elmer projects as a right tackle for the Irish and will likely earn a starting gig once incumbent starting right tackle Christian Lombard exhausts his collegiate eligibility.

    However, the possibility exists for the Midland, Mich., native to slide into the left guard spot that will become available when incumbent starter Chris Watt leaves Notre Dame following the 2013 season.

    The most intriguing part of Elmer's presence on the roster is that, because he has already grown into a game-ready body, this behemoth talent will push for playing time right away. And the fact that Elmer enrolled for the spring semester will only boost his chances at seeing the field in 2013.

Jaylon Smith, LB

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    While constructing his base 3-4 defensive scheme, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will search for athletic, rangy linebackers who possess the ability to both effectively stop the run and drop into pass coverage

    And, boy, did he receive a crown jewel in Jaylon Smith.

    Tabbed as a 5-star prospect, per, the 6'3", 218-pound linebacker will have his presence felt from the start, as witnessed by his blazing time of 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

    Smith, who projects as an outside linebacker for the Irish, could potentially earn a starting gig next season based on Brian Kelly's remarks from his national signing day press conference last Wednesday.

    "If Danny Spond is [among] the best 11, he’s playing. If Jaylon Smith is [among] the best 11, he’s playing.’’ (h/t

    Smith doesn't seem to have even a single doubt that he'll be a starter when the Irish begin their 2013 season against Temple on Aug. 31. His confidence was evident during a national signing day press conference at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School.

    ‘‘I will be among the best 11. It’s all confidence and work ethic. It’s not just about being high-caliber in high school. You have to show up when you get to college.’’ (h/t

    Whether Smith earns a starting gig is irrelevant; he's the type of rare talent who will have his name called early and often as a freshman.

Eddie Vanderdoes, DT

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    The engine that drives a base 3-4 defensive scheme is a mammoth, space-eating nose guard.

    Notre Dame currently possesses one of, if not the best nose guard in the country in Louis Nix III. Though Nix has the option to return for a fifth season, the odds are in favor of a jump to the NFL, meaning that a replacement will be needed at nose guard.

    Eddie Vanderdoes is the unquestioned heir apparent.

    The 6'3", 310-pound defensive tackle committed to Notre Dame on the evening of national signing day after speculation that he would sign with Alabama.

    What the Auburn, Calif., native brings to the table is versatility. According to, Vanderdoes projects as a swing player who could fill in at both nose guard and strong side defensive end for the Irish.

    Regardless of which position Vanderdoes lines up at, he will be a force to be reckoned with during his collegiate career.

Greg Bryant, RB

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    Though his offenses at Central Michigan and Cincinnati relied heavily on the vertical passing game, Brian Kelly's offense at Notre Dame has evolved into a run-first unit.

    That change in philosophy, coupled with the successes of former Irish running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, were likely enough to sell Delray Beach, Fla., native Greg Bryant to sign with Notre Dame.

    Rated as a composite 4-star player, per, Bryant is the workhorse-type back the Irish were in need of during the recently completed recruiting cycle.

    The Irish possess shifty, playmaking running backs in Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson, though the two are not every-down type backs desired by a head coach. That's where Bryant and William Mahone enter the picture.

    Don't be surprised to see the race for starting duties at running back trickle down to those two.

    The winner of that competition shouldn't feel too grand a sense of jubilation, for Kelly prefers a running back-by-committee approach.